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Washington Common Law Marriage

What is Common-Law Marriage in Washington?

A common-law marriage is a legal arrangement between two persons who live together, share marital responsibilities, and present themselves to the public as a married couple, without receiving a marriage license or participating in a formal marriage ceremony. Sometimes called an informal marriage, this union is only recognized in the District of Columbia and a few US states. Some practicing states include Montana, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, South Carolina, and Utah.

Common-law marriages provide a legal alternative for persons who want formal recognition of their union but also want to sidestep traditional marriage requirements and other related expenses. Some entitlements and benefits enjoyed by common-law couples include the following:

  • Healthcare benefits, such as hospital visitation
  • Social security
  • Child custody
  • Making an emergency medical decision on a partner’s behalf
  • Right to inheritance
  • Spousal support
  • Tax benefits
  • Property rights

All US states recognize common-law marriages that meet the requirements set in the state of creation and the state where the couple resides upon relocation. Regardless of this legal backing, there are downsides to common-law marriages. These include:

  • Proving a common-law marriage could be difficult. Couples who do not have a declaration or affidavit that supports the existence of their union may find it difficult to receive benefits.
  • Common-law couples who move outside the US may be ineligible for certain entitlements if this type of marriage is not recognized in their new jurisdiction of residence.

Marriage in Washington

In 2019, Washington had a marriage rate of 5.7 per 1,000 residents and a divorce rate of 2.8 per 1,000. Also, 52% of male residents aged 15 years and above were married, compared to 51% of females. Also, in the same age range, 10% of males were divorced, versus 13% for females.

Does Washington Recognize Common-Law Marriages?

Washington does not recognize common-law marriages that were created in the state. Nonetheless, Washington considers a common-law marriage if it was established in a state with supporting laws, in compliance with the US constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause.

Washington residents may consider other options for unions outside of a traditional or common-law marriage. Interested persons may enter a domestic partnership or establish a cohabitation agreement.

What is a Domestic Partnership in Washington?

A Washington domestic partnership or state-registered domestic partnership (SRDP) is a legal union between two persons who are not married to each other under law but live together and establish a common domestic life. According to RCW 26.60.015, state-registered domestic partners must be treated the same as married spouses. The law states that these partners must enjoy any benefit, right, immunity, or privilege legally granted to married persons under Washington law. However, all such provisions should not be in conflict with federal law. For example, registered domestic partners can not file federal tax returns using a married filing. Persons interested in entering a domestic partnership must submit a completed and notarized Declaration of State Registered Domestic Partnership form to the Washington Secretary of State:

Secretary of State
Corporate Division
801 Capital Way S
P.O. Box 40234
Olympia, WA 98504-0234

What is a Cohabitation Agreement in Washington?

A cohabitation agreement is an agreement established between two unmarried persons who live together. The agreement contains specifics of each partner’s responsibilities during their relationship and also states rules to be used for property sharing if the relationship ends. A cohabitation agreement is considerably similar to a prenuptial agreement which also outlines the assets and responsibilities of a married couple and establishes a formula for sharing properties in the event of a divorce.

What is a Committed Intimate Relationship in Washington?

A Committed Intimate Relationship (CIR) is a relationship between two persons who live together, share responsibilities, and intend to be involved in a relationship similar to marriage. Although state law does not contain provisions for a CIR, Washington courts recognize such relationships. Washington does not have a defined formula or criteria to qualify a CIR. However, courts consider the following:

  • Exclusive and continuous cohabitation during the relationship
  • Joint financial actions and plans such as joint homeownership and maintaining joint accounts
  • The intention of both parties to enter a relationship similar to a marriage, including presenting themselves to the public as spouses, creating joint wills, or having children
  • The duration of the relationship, usually the date the couple begins cohabitation

A CIR is very similar to a common-law marriage in many ways. Although courts may consider all available factors to confirm the existence of a CIR, not all applicable factors may be necessary to make a ruling.

Common-Law Marriage and Palimony in Washington

Washington law does not provide for palimony, which refers to spousal support payments after an unmarried couple separates. Since the state does not recognize common-law marriages, palimony benefits are not supported by law. However, Washington courts may evaluate each party’s interest and order that properties be unequally distributed if one party’s economic circumstances demand as much. In Washington, the only way to enforce benefits similar to palimony is to include such a provision in a cohabitation agreement.

What are the Requirements for a Common-Law Marriage in Washington?

Washington has no requirements for a common-law marriage since this type of union is not recognized in the state. The recognized alternative to a common-law marriage is a domestic partnership, which is available to all adult residents. However, RCW 26.60.030 states that a domestic partnership must meet the following requirements:

  • Both partners must share a common residence
  • One partner must be 62 years old or older, while the other must be at least 18 years old
  • Neither person is in a state registered domestic partnership or marriage with another person
  • Both partners are able to consent to the domestic partnership
  • Both partners are not related to each other in a manner that would void a traditional marriage

Washington only recognizes common-law marriages created in states with laws that support their creation. Requirements for creation are assessed on a case-by-case basis, depending on applicable laws in the state where each one was established.

How Many Years Do You Have to Live Together for Common-Law Marriage in Washington?

Washington does not specify any durational cohabitation requirement for common-law marriages. However, Washington will recognize such a union if it meets the cohabitation requirement stipulated by the law in the jurisdiction where the marriage was established.

What Does It Mean to Be Legally Free to Marry in Washington?

A person who is legally free to marry in Washington has fulfilled the state’s requirements for obtaining a marriage license to become a legal wife or husband under law. For a Washington marriage, the following requirements apply:

  • Each party is at least 18 years old. A 17-year-old may obtain a marriage license if the person is legally emancipated or presents a notarized statement of consent from a parent or legal guardian. An applicant younger than 17 may only marry after receiving an age requirement waiver from a superior court judge in the county where one of the parties resides
  • Both persons are currently not married, in a domestic relationship, or any other similar union
  • Both persons are not nearer of kin to each other than second cousins

What is an Informal Marriage in Washington?

An informal marriage is the same as a common-law marriage. However, this term is used to describe common-law marriages in Texas, according to Section 2.401 of the Texas Family Code. Common-law marriages recognized in Washington are referred to as informal marriages in Texas.

How Do You Prove Common-Law Marriage in Washington?

Couples are advised to obtain legal documentation in the event that they need to prove the existence of common-law marriage. Documents used to prove common-law marriages may differ by state. A couple may apply for a notarized affidavit signed by both partners which may be acceptable by a court. In Texas, a common-law couple can obtain a Declaration of Informal Marriage. For a common-law marriage valid in Michigan, the couple must obtain a power of attorney for legal matters and medical power of attorney for medical matters.

If neither document exists, the party who needs to prove that the union existed must provide as much evidence as possible. Joint bank accounts, tax returns, and insurance policies that list the other partner as a spouse may be submitted. Other examples include a birth certificate with both partners’ names as a child’s parents, documents showing that both partners share a surname, and testimonies from family and friends.

Third-party websites provide an alternative to obtaining public vital records. These non-governmental platforms come with intuitive search tools that help simplify the process of accessing single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. To obtain public marriage records, requesters may need to provide:

  • The full name of both spouses ((include first, middle, and last names)
  • The date the marriage occurred (month, date and year)
  • The location where the marriage occurred (city and county)

How Do You Prove Common-Law Marriage in Washington After Death?

If one partner dies, the other partner can prove a common-law marriage by submitting supporting documents, such as an affidavit or declaration of informal marriage. Testimonies or statements from close third parties may also be considered. Members of the public should note that proving a common-law marriage in Washington is only possible if submitted evidence shows that the union was established in a state that recognizes such unions.

Third-party websites may provide a convenient solution to obtaining marriage-related public records. These non-governmental platforms come with intuitive search tools that help simplify the process of accessing single or multiple records. However, record availability on third-party sites tends to vary because they’re independent of government sources. To obtain public marriage records, requesters may need to provide:

The full name of both spouses (include first, middle, and last names) The date the marriage occurred (month, date, and year) The location where the marriage occurred (city and county)

Do Common-Law Marriages Require a Divorce?

Ending a common-law marriage in Washington requires a divorce. Persons who established a common-law marriage in a jurisdiction with supporting laws may file a petition for divorce in Washington. According to RCW 26.09.030, the following conditions must apply:

  • One party resides in Washington or is stationed in the state as a member of the armed forces
  • One spouse believes the marriage is irreparably broken

Washington has a 90-day waiting rule. According to this rule, no divorce will be granted for at least 90 days after the initial filing. The state imposes this rule to give the couple time to confirm that their differences are irreconcilable.

Couples may also consider a legal separation. This process also requires splitting responsibilities, child support, child custody, and property or debt division. However, parties should note that a legal separation is not the same as a divorce. Legally separated parties cannot remarry until they obtain a divorce decree. In addition, the Social Security Administration does not recognize legal separation, making it impossible for parties to obtain related benefits.

Does A Common-Law Wife Have Rights in Washington?

Common-law wives have rights similar to those enjoyed by traditional wives. However, access to those rights lies on the person’s ability to prove the existence of a common-law marriage or a Committed Intimate Relationship. If a court determines that such an arrangement did exist, all common-law married partners may enjoy applicable rights as if they were married.

Can a Common-Law Wife Collect Social Security in Washington?

Partners resident in Washington may receive social security benefits if the union was created in a state that recognizes common-law marriages. Persons looking to apply for benefits must apply to the Social Security Administration by submitting a completed Statement of Marital Relationship Form and a Statement Regarding Marriage completed by a blood relative.

Requestors must be 61 years and 9 months old. Eligible persons may obtain social security benefits by requesting online. Partners may also call (800) 772-1213, TTY (800) 325-0778, or visit a local social security office.

Are Common-Law Wives Entitled to Half in Washington?

Common-law wives divorcing their partners are not entitled to half in Washington. What a partner receives when going their separate ways depends on what the courts are convinced should go to each person.

Washington is a community property state, which means that the state assumes that all property acquired during the marriage belongs to both partners equally. However, courts do not immediately split all assets and debts by half. The following are factors used to determine equitable distribution:

  • The nature of each property
  • The length of the relationship
  • Each party’s specific economic situation
  • Factors that may have led to the separation

How Do You Get A Common-Law Marriage Affidavit in Washington?

Parties may only request common-law marriage affidavits in the state where the marriage was established. An affidavit should state the names of both partners, the state of creation, and other details relevant to the union.

When Did Common-Law Marriage End in Washington?

Washington has never recognized common-law marriages. The state only recognizes domestic partnerships, using the “committed intimate relationship” phrase to describe the Washington equivalent.

What is Considered Common-Law Marriage in Washington?

A common-law marriage in Washington is only valid according to the common-law marriage law where it was created. Since the state has never recognized common law marriage, confirming the validity of such an arrangement begins with related laws in the applicable jurisdiction. The alternative, a state registered domestic partnership, requires the couple to complete, notarize, and submit a declaration form to the Washington Secretary of State.

Is a Domestic Partnership the Same As a Common-Law Marriage in Washington?

A domestic partnership and a common-law marriage are not the same. While common-law marriages are only recognized according to the laws of states that recognize them, the state allows Washington residents to enter domestic partnerships by completing a registration process. Another difference is that while all states recognize common-law marriages, a Washington domestic partnership may not be valid outside the state.

Does the Federal Government Recognize Washington Common-Law Marriages?

The federal government only recognizes common-law marriages created in states with supporting laws. As of 2021, states that recognize common-law marriages include New Hampshire, Texas, Utah, Iowa, Montana, Rhode Island, Kansas, South Carolina, and Colorado. The federal government also recognizes common-law marriages in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Idaho, and Georgia, if the union was created before specific dates according to applicable laws in each state. Common-law marriages created outside these requirements are not recognized by the federal government and therefore not accorded any benefits.